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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Richard Wagamese

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1511879,164 (4.28)32
Title:Indian Horse
Authors:Richard Wagamese
Info:Douglas & Mcintyre (2012), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Canadian, Read but unowned
Tags:Ontario, residential schools, hockey, Ojibway, racism, Canada Reads 2013

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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (2012)

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    The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Iudita)
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    Motorcycles & Sweetgrass by Drew Hayden Taylor (unaluna)
    unaluna: If you liked Indian Horse, I think you'd like this one as well. It's insightful, sensitive and very witty.

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» See also 32 mentions

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Definitely a book directed at Canadians.

I knew that children were sent to Australia from British orphanages, I knew that Aboriginal children were separated from their families 'for their own good'. I knew that children of Irish mothers were 'rehomed' without trace. Now I discover that Canadian Indian children were also wrenched from their families and forced to live in barbaric schools. Here they learnt very little and were savagely beaten for minor infringements of the totally unrealistic rules. Their native language was banned and most of their days were spent in cleaning, farming or cooking, serving men and women who should never have been nuns or monks in the first place. Why is this becoming such a familiar scenario? Why are there so many evil people masquerading as Christians?

Saul Indian Horse comes from a loving Ojibway family. His grandparents are from the 'old way' but his parents' generation are Christian, living as their ancestors had, but confused about what they believe. They are, however, determined that Saul and his brother Benjamin will not be stolen away like their elder sister, never to be seen again.

Unfortunately, in spite of their best efforts, Saul finds himself at St Jerome's. Here he survives the loneliness and fear by totally engrossing himself in the game of ice hockey.

This is where the Canadian readers in our book group continued to be engrossed, while the non-Canadians got lost in a continuous description of hockey jargon. I found myself skipping large chunks of detailed descriptions of hockey games, exciting twirls on the back of the blade and bouncing off backboards. It sounds like an horrifically violent sport, but I was totally out of my depth in these passages, which formed a large proportion of the book.

This book had a strong message about survival and endurance and what it takes to overcome a traumatic childhood, and I would surely have been giving it 4 stars if it hadn't been so strongly biased towards ice hockey.
Recommended reading for Canadians. ( )
  DubaiReader | Jun 24, 2015 |
May be spoilers. Mostly I liked this book. He is a good writer. He paints a clear & strong picture of the destruction that the government of Canada rained on the native people. The hockey part is fun but a little metaphysical for me. Well, I guess the whole book is, but it seemed more intrusive in the hockey part.
  franoscar | Jan 5, 2015 |
Richard Wagamese's novel, INDIAN HORSE, is an eye-opener, and one hell of a good story. Narrator Saul Indian Horse, a thirty-three year-old Canadian Native American (First Nation), is writing down his story as therapy, trying to come back from years of alcohol abuse. His life has been a mixture of the grim and glorious. The grimness stems from his being orphaned and abandoned as a child, followed by years of abuse as a resident of a Northern Ontario Indian School run by priests and nuns. The glory comes with his prowess and natural ability as a hockey player, which takes him from the rag-tag school team, through the Reserve and mill town bush leagues all the way up to a farm team for the Maple Leafs, where it all falls apart when Saul finds himself the target of hatred and racism. Quitting all of it he roams rootlessly for years, drowning it all in alcohol.

Wagamese blends native culture and rituals with the influences of white civilization - mostly bad - and the hockey madness that Canada is famous for and creates a story that will grab you and keep you reading deep into the night.

I had wanted to read this book ever since reading another book about hockey, also by a Canadian, Brian Fawcett's excellent THE LAST OF THE LUMBERMEN. I'm glad I finally did. The truth is I don't play hockey or even watch it, but both authors are good enough that I was mesmerized, and yes, a lot of both books are all about HOCKEY! INDIAN HORSE is a moving, eloquent and disturbing look at life in Canada's First Nation back in the 60s and 70s, and Saul Indian Horse is a character you will remember. Highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Oct 13, 2014 |
Richard Wagamese writes lovely descriptive passages, and I enjoyed reading about Saul Indian Horse's early years with his grandmother. I watch hockey occasionally during the finals, but I'm not a big hockey fan, so I ended up skipping over large portions of the book that dealt with hockey. I found the information about the Indian residential schools very interesting (and tragic), and like many of us, find it difficult to understand how church-run schools could have treated children so badly.
  REDonald | Apr 26, 2014 |
In Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese recounts the life of a northern Ojibway, Saul Indian Horse, as he embarks on a healing journey to come to terms with the truth about his experience in a native residential school. His unbreakable bond with the land and his strong spiritual connections ultimately save him from alcoholism, but the abuse he suffered and the racism he endured have tainted all of his life experiences. Even his beloved hockey, which at first seems to save him from the residential school abuse, is in fact inextricably linked to it. It makes you ashamed to be a citizen of a country that inflicted this on their aboriginal people. A well-deserved people's-choice winner on 2013's Canada Reads. ( )
  Lindsay_W | Jan 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Saul is portrayed clearly enough to function as a believable, engaging narrator, but he also operates as a kind of allegorical figure in a larger, spiritual drama of personal and communal trauma, endurance, and recovery.

Wagamese pulls off a fine balancing act: exposing the horrors of the country’s residential schools while also celebrating Canada’s national game.
Wagemese’s writing qualifies as an act of courage, for we are in the midst of one of the most effective silencing campaigns in generations: People who dare to address historical wrongs are regularly accused of whining; unbelievably, the word “victim” has become a derogatory term. Yet, Wagamese writes without apology; and with such specificity and emotional restraint the reader sometimes forgets to breathe....In addition to individual words and phrases, he weaves in Ojibway legends. In this way Wagamese crafts an unforgettable work of art.
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I come in to the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry, The Peace of Wild Things
For my wife, Debra Powell, for allowing me to bask in her light and become more.
First words
My name is Saul Indian Horse.
When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That's what they inflicted on us.
Our legends tell of how we emerged from the womb of out Mother Earth; Aki is the name we have for her. We sprang forth intact, with Aki's heartbeat thrumming in our ears, prepared to become her stewards and protectors. When I was born our people still talked this way. We had not yet stepped beyond the influence of our legends. That was a border my generation crossed, and we pine for a return that has never come to be.
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Saul Indian Horse is dying. Tucked away in a hospice high above the clash and clang of a big city, he embarks on a marvellous journey of imagination back through the life he led as a northern Ojibway, with all its sorrows and joys.

With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he's sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement.

Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man. Evaluated and Approved by ERAC
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